A powerful way to develop employees is to give them a portfolio assignment. This would be something they are asked to do while they remain responsible for their normal daily duties. Motivated employees with the ambition to learn new skills and take advantage of new opportunities to achieve developmental goals typically welcome such assignments. Portfolio assignments are less popular among employees who are less driven to succeed and develop their careers.
A vital part of planning to assign someone to a specific project is to define expectations, and desired outcomes. Failing to define the project at the start can easily lead to wasted effort as the assignee focuses on the wrong aspects or misinterprets what is expected. Equally important is the need to appoint a sponsor, who is typically an executive or senior manager and who meets with the employee on a regular basis throughout the portfolio project. These meetings serve to provide guidance and coaching to the assignee and support his or her learning.
The template I am sharing with you – see download button below – is a very basic document. You can expand it by detailing specific learning areas such as which competency development would be addressed by this assignment. And you can also add in sections to capture the coaching and guidance advice given to the assignee by the sponsor when they meet to discuss the project. The template includes both the project definition and the post-project evaluation. It may be preferable to split those sections into different documents for ease of use.
- Ensure you prepare the sponsor to guide the project. He or she must be able to coach without taking over and know how to challenge an assignee without overwhelming him or her with suggestions or critical comments.
- Take your time explaining the project to the assignee and ask for feedback to ensure that he or she really understood it. Sometimes the writer of the project description can be oblivious to the gaps and important details left out of the description by being already very familiar with the issue(s).
- If you are the HR or Learning/Training representative responsible for overseeing the learning process, do check in with both sponsor and assignee on a regular basis. This helps you identify any early signs that the coaching relationship may not be working well or perhaps one of the participants is not fully engaged. Take action to resolve any issues that you may become aware of.
- Spend time debriefing with the sponsor and assignee after the assignment. The learning is not only applicable to the assignee. The sponsor can learn how to better guide such projects in future and you, as the responsible HR/Learning representative, can learn how to better support such learning process in future.